Punishment Insensitivity and Parenting: Temperament and Learning as Interacting Risks for Antisocial Behavior

  • Mark R. Dadds
  • Karen Salmon


We review ideas about individual differences in sensitivity or responsiveness to common disciplinary behaviors parents use to correct aggressive and antisocial behavior in children. At extremes, children may be seen as “punishment-insensitive,” an heuristic with some value relevant to models of the development of antisocial and aggressive behavior disorders. Literature from diverse fields, such as psychopathy, child temperament, socialization and the development of moral conscience, conditioning theory, and personality theory, have all utilized the idea that humans differ in their sensitivity to aversive stimuli and the cues that signal their occurrence, as well as their ability to inhibit reward-driven behavior, in the presence of punishment cues. Contemporary thinking places these dispositions squarely as basic biological aspects of temperament that moderate the effects of the environment (e.g., parenting) on outcomes (e.g., mental health). We review a largely forgotten literature that shows clearly that sensitivity to punishment is also reliably influenced by the environment itself. An attempt is then made to model the interactional processes by which parenting and punishment sensitivities in children magnify or diminish each other's progress toward healthy or antisocial development. Implications for parenting of children with low responsiveness to punishment strategies are discussed.

antisocial behavior punishment psychopathy learning processes temperament 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark R. Dadds
    • 1
  • Karen Salmon
    • 1
  1. 1.University of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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